Monday, March 21, 2011


Over and over we built our castles, dug moats, made walls, only to see each construction erased by a careless wave, turned back in an instant into unmarked sand. I even laid my body down as a barricade (as I would do for you) but still the waves came on.

I know at least one very dear and patient person is still checking this sorry and neglected excuse for a blog (xoxoxo @ ATWB!), so I'll try to update things a bit more often.  So...

I had a very difficult emergency visit to my mother.  She has had two bad falls in the past few months and got lost on a trip to Philadelphia (and by "lost" I mean she ended up in Baltimore).  I told her she had to move very soon to Pittsburgh and live with us.  She said "No no no."  I said "Yes yes yes." I eventually won out because 
1. I was right
2. I'm bossy that way
But it's devastating for her.  Her grandfather had dementia and (according to her) turned into an old lecherous caricature of himself, still going to his offices and groping all the women in the elevators.  Her father, when he was diagnosed with possible senility, committed suicide rather than become like his father.  

Of course she won't be groping women in elevators (at least I hope not!), but she has lived for a long time with the heavy weight of fear - as her father did - of losing herself entirely to this disease, or of losing what she considers to be the most important parts of herself.  And in ways I see already that she is.

Wish us luck in finding a path together and through this that is more dignified and full of love than the paths her grandfather and father found.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where I've been

I've been working like a mad woman on revising my novel but also, as you'll read below, dealing with my mother's descent into Alzheimer's.  Heart wrenching.

Opening my brother’s specimen room door
to pin a new one to the wall
it always seemed we’d startled a flock
of sunning butterflies.  Wings wide -
palm-leaf green, sky turquoise,
sunset orange, star-lit iridescent midnight -
rising up the walls away,  forever
stilled.  Shadows wavered beneath
them so they seemed to move. Just
a trick of light.

In those days my mother wore
sun yellow, grass green, American-beauty red
silks.  Sleek sheaths, dresses
with tight bodices and skirts that fell
like bell flowers around her knees
fluttering as the ceiling
fans circled.  Sinuous lines of cigarette smoke
rose above the chink of drinks
and cocktail party laughter.  She floated
from group to group. Hostess’s antennae tuned to
too much, too little, too lonely, too late,
she skimmed each clustered group, landed, moved
on, spreading her bright
self wide.  And where she lingered
they stilled and said,
There’s sweetness.

The doctor displays
a cross section of two brains.  “In the normal one,”
he points, “the cerebral cortex and hippocampus
are full.”  The lobes spread wide, full and rounded
with nuances of knowing.  “But here you see….”
The other is an ugly leering face:
its jagged edges draw the unkempt hair;
scooped-out hollows make the vacant eyes, the mouth
hanging open in sleep.  Formaldehyde
also kills without destroying outer form.
I held the jar and watched
my brother put the silken creatures in. I watched them
struggle into stillness.  

This woman moves
uncertainly.  Querulously angry she says
“The maid stole my sweater.
I put it here and now it’s gone.”  She is
so fixed that I don’t even argue.  My mother
would have known that
no one – least of all the pretty Ethiopian
who cleans the floors – stole her old
moth-holed cashmere.  My mother
would have soothed this woman struggling
to make sense of an invisible
thief who is stealing
all her memory.  My mother’s daughter
would have said, ‘That’s nonsense Mama.’
But I just hold my tongue.  I watch
and sometimes see
the shadow of my mother moving
in this stranger, or maybe just
a trick of the light
of my memory.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

More pictures from the dynamite crate

There are more of this series on my flickr site if you'd like to poke around my grandfather's world.
Horseman by the shore, Nicaragua, late 50s

People at the swimming hole, Nicaragua, late 50s

Office workers, Honduras, late 1950s

Boy holding machete, Nicaragua, late 1950s

She's a little devil (Cousin in a mask)

Pirate cousin

Friday, January 7, 2011

Peace be with you

I got a hateful comment today on a little piece of piffle I wrote some time ago.  Generally I'm a pretty feisty person and not averse to mixing it up with bullies.  But it's been such a heart-wearying Fall that all I want is to do is to give and receive peace, kindness, heart's ease.

So to that end let me share with you one of the great bright spots of my life lately.  This summer I found, in my aunt's attic, an old dynamite crate full of slides and negatives that my grandfather took fifty +/- years ago, some in Nicaragua where he was working as an engineer, and some in the US.

Now let me tell you about my Grandfather.  He was a right-wing, racist, homophobic good ol' boy just one sheet short of the KKK.  But he was also my Granddaddy who taught me how to play chess and poker, bought me wonderful trinkets at junk shops, and put plastic flies on our grits to make us laugh.  I might hate some of the things he believed, but I could never hate him.

And for a right-wing racist homophobe he took some stunning pictures full of love, beauty, and humor.  By which I mean to say we are all complex, full of good and bad, and forgetting that makes everyone poorer, makes the whole world a sadder harder place.  So enjoy the pictures and the strange and beautiful conundrum of the man who took them.

Women on the road, Nicaragua 1958

Rodeo levade, Nicaragua 1958

Diver at the water hole, Nicaragua 1958

Diver, Gran Hotel, Nicaragua 1959

Cousin in a mask, North Carolina 1960s